“As a team, we are working hard to stay in the Naisten Liiga [Finland’s top women’s league] and to do well in it,” she said. “My personal goal is to play as many games and always put the team in the best possible situation to win, on and off the ice,” said Last.
The monumental transition from subtropical Sydney has been eased with life at the Arctic Circle becoming a family affair. Twin brother Harrison and one year younger sibling Matthew are both skating with RoKi Rovaniemi’s junior program.
“It’s really nice having my brothers with me in Finland as they always keep me company. I sometimes train with my twin brother, Harrison’s team. Matthew has also trained with Harrison’s team, so a few times we’ve all been training together. I also played with Harrison’s RoKi team,” she said.
“As parents, we knew the kids would enjoy the experience of living and playing ice hockey in Rovaniemi for one season, but thought the challenges of living on the fringe of the Artic Circle would ultimately prove too much. But to our surprise, when RoKi Rovaniemi gained promotion to Naisten Liiga and Olivia was offered the opportunity to extend her contract for another season, all three children were eager to enrol in a local school. This was also attractive to Aneta and I, given our appreciation for the world-renowned education system in Finland,” said Rod Last.
While the kids are quickly getting up to speed with the Finnish language, other exotic elements of life up at the Arctic circle require a bit more time to get accustomed to for Olivia.
“When I first arrived in Rovaniemi, sleeping when the midnight sun was up was very strange, but after a while, I got used to it. Harder to get used to has been the winter being so cold and putting on so many layers of clothing before going outside.
“Also remarkable is how we have been stopped in the streets by herds of reindeer roaming freely, which is quite different from the occasional visit from a wallaby, goanna or snake roaming in the bush at the back of the house in Sydney. I also have several apps on my phone which track the northern lights,” she said.
Upon their return back home to Australia in 2016, Olivia then continued her development at the Flyers Ice Hockey Club. Her return to Europe was instigated by Gabe Robledo, her goalie coach in Sydney.
Robledo had contacted his Finnish friend Pekka Kankaanranta, who previously played in Australia and now was the CEO of RoKi (Rovaniemen Kiekko). With a goaltending spot being open, RoKi women’s team head coach Tuomas Liitola asked Olivia to send a video of her in action.
In August 2019, siblings Olivia and Matthew travelled together with their mother to Rovaniemi. Upon her arrival, 14-year-old Olivia was immediately thrown into the deep end at her new club then aiming for a spot in Finland’s women’s top division.
“I began training with the women’s team the same evening I arrived,” recalled Last. “I was drafted in as the backup goaltender but was determined to train hard and compete for the starting spot on the team. I then played in a pre-season game, which I wasn’t meant to play but was called in halfway through the game. I was a bit shocked and nervous but I really enjoyed playing with my new team.”
“I think my strengths are positioning and always seeing the play in front of me. I definitely need to work on my puck playing skills so I can be the sixth player on ice. So far, I have met many goalie coaches here and all of them are excellent with their own coaching technique,” she said.
Barely two months after having turned 15, Last debuted at senior level for Australia at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in Akureyri, Iceland. Last was named the tournament’s best goaltender by the directorate as Australia waltzed past opponents to win gold with an unblemished record.
“It was such an amazing experience playing with the older, more experienced players on the Australian team. While ice hockey in Australia has obvious challenges, there are passionate people working hard to promote the game and develop the talent,” she said.
“Ice hockey is still a very marginalised sport in Australia and male dominated. I’d love to see Olivia Last and our other young female talent be recognised, and their hard work be acknowledged here and globally. We continue to close the gap with our competitors, who don’t have all the obstacles we face living so far away from other countries we compete against and being able to practise playing together. I am very proud of Olivia and believe this is just the start of what will be a notable ice hockey career abroad for her,” said Jones.
Turning only 16 in December, Last’s immediate goal will now be to record her first shutout for RoKi Rovaniemi in a burgeoning career where the world is at her feet. “I want to continue improving and striving to be the best I can be. I am not sure where that will take me, but I am really enjoying the journey,” she said.